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Diversity and Inclusion: Life Above 40 in a Digital Company

Published: March 30, 2018

Author: Hillary Read

Creating a more diverse, inclusive culture has been one of 3Q Digital’s biggest initiatives since 2017, and it’s not just about becoming a better business; it’s about being better people. As part of this initiative, we present a weeklong blog series dedicated to issues we’re trying to address, how we’re trying to address them, and the challenges we’re encountering as we go.

“We’ll help you down,” my colleagues assured me. So off we went, in formation, me and my creaky knees on downhill skis for the first time in almost 30 years, and my colleagues patiently guiding me down the bunny slope.
No falls, no calamities. We went back up the chair lift and did the whole thing again, and I figured that while I was exhilarated after staying upright and getting some snow in my face and wind in my sails, I needed a beer in the safety of the ski lodge, and they needed their freedom.
That was our perks outing in the Burlington office in the winter of 2015, back when I was a spry 38-year-old – and about a decade older than my officemates. One fall for them, and – oh, wait. They were all pretty good skiers and weren’t about to fall. But if they had, and if I had, one of us would have taken a LOT longer to bounce back.
Such is life as a relative elder in a youthful industry. At 3Q, we in our 40s and beyond often aren’t the ones steering the office conversation on perks, parties, pop culture references, etc. (Ask my officemates about the time I mispronounced “Kris Jenner” as “Linda Kardashian.”)
Set aside for a moment the luxury of being part of a company that provides such good perks that you get to go skiing on a workday. Does being in the long-in-the-tooth category make work in a young-skewing industry tougher?
For me, truthfully: no. The kids keep me young and energetic (really), and if I ever know something about technology that they don’t, I get to brag about it for months.
Most importantly, it’s clearer to me than it’s ever been that with age comes perspective. Those of us in our 40s are super-valuable resources because, among other things, we bring points of view gleaned from years in the workforce – even if (or maybe because) our resumes have been somewhat less than linear (you’d find “travel guide editor,” “journalist,” and “NCAA coach” on mine).
If you’re reading this, you’re mostly likely in digital marketing. And if you’re in digital marketing, odds are you’re a relatively young professional. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be the elder in your office, these perspectives might shed some light. And if they make you laugh, that’s even better.
Sr. Director of Creative Adrienne Abrams: There is a huge upside to being, shall we say, more mature (read: old). At this stage of my career, nothing is really a surprise. I don’t often feel blind-sided or unsure of how to handle a situation; I’ve probably seen it (or something similar) before. I’ve also learned how to manage my time much better – I know what’s really important and what can wait a day, or two. While things aren’t perfect, my tenure has taught me both how to prioritize and to not (usually) sweat the small stuff.
However, what I find the most surprising are the pop culture differences. There are people who haven’t seen Sixteen Candles or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – imagine that. Or don’t know the iconic scene of Lloyd Dobler holding his boombox overhead, blasting “In Your Eyes” from Say Anything. (Though, truthfully, I cannot Keep up with the Kardashians.)
Director of Display Sara Pfitzinger: For this year’s annual holiday white elephant party, I decided to participate with a true white elephant; a Zune (still in box) given to me by Microsoft in a prior position. (In addition to the electronic brick, I also included a DVD of Guardians of the Galaxy 2, because Star-Lord really liked his Zune, but I digress.) When the 20-something-year-old who selected the present opened the box, his brow furrowed and I could tell he had no idea what he was looking at. I explained that a Zune was Microsoft’s answer to an iPod, and he brightened up and said, “Oh, yeah, I’ve HEARD about those.”   
VP of People Laura Rodnitzky: I freely talk about being over 40 and one of the older people at 3Q, but for some reason I feel even older when we’re talking about cultural references or life milestones. 
For example, last year, the Chicago office was having a Slack convo about a local icon (The State Street Preacher), who stations himself close to our building and has been around “forever.” Someone mentioned that their sister used to see him back in the early 2000s, and my initial response was along the lines of “He’s been there longer than that. I remember seeing him in college in the mid-90s.” But before hitting send, I changed it to “Even earlier…. I remember seeing him in the late 90s when I worked in the Loop.” It’s a minor distinction, but when you’re working with people who just graduated from college, it makes you feel that much older to talk about being in college before they were born. 
VP of Technology Carl Paradiso: One of the key differences working with younger folks now and an older crowd in the past is that I used to have to convince and entice people to try new tools and services, whereas now I have a team of tech scouts who are always on the lookout for new tools and apps. My job now is to select the best ones and make sure they integrate well and are secure and scalable. My years of experience in software integration and data security is still relevant and valuable and complements the adventurousness of the younger team. The rapid change in tech is exciting, and I’d be frustrated if I were surrounded by people who just wanted to do things the way they used to.
VP of Business Development Ellen Corrigan: I’ve noticed people around the office kidding their peers when they have a big birthday: “Oh my God, dude, you’re old,” on a 25th birthday, or “You’re going to go bald!” on a 30th birthday. We had one meeting when everyone was going around saying how old they were; most were in their 20s. I was like, “I think someone’s calling me in the kitchen.”
Account Director Jesse Morris: I’ve heard some people express surprise about resumes for entry-level roles that have a lot of history in them. “Why is this person trying to get into an entry-level position when they’ve been in traditional marketing for 10 years?”
It’s hard to explain to someone who is just starting out in their career that things change over a 20-year span and that it’s not impossible that online advertising could become less important over time. They could someday find themselves in the position of creating a new career at 35. Luckily, as our industry is “growing up,” we have more and more people out of their 20s and 30’s working here and the value of someone with existing experience in client management, who has a broader perspective gained from outside of our closed digital marketing universe, has become more clear. It’s interesting to see how our offices, events, benefits and our culture as a whole is evolving as we continue to diversify. It’s something I really enjoy and, as studies have proven, something that benefits our agency as a whole. We simply want the very best people, no matter who they are, no matter where they are. 
Art Director Julia Thiel: Personally, I feel really good about my age, experience, and where I am at in life. Turning 40 almost two years ago felt like an achievement, something to be proud of. Finally feeling somewhat “finished”, finally arrived at “yup, this is me”.
However, as an “older-than -average” person at 3Q, I often notice how my needs greatly differ from those of the younger office crowd. I get it. In my 20s, I loved that my office life was a big part of my social life. I couldn’t wait to come in every day and catch up on everything that was going on, joking, making fun of each other, sharing all kinds of things—all the while multi-tasking and getting work done. We’d go out to lunch almost every day and drink ourselves silly at happy hours. It was community, and my coworkers were close friends.
Now I find myself just wanting to really focus on work during business hours, and then disconnect from it. Retreat to my private, very separate-from-work life on a hill in the woods. Cook, unwind. Read a book. Watch hummingbirds while sipping on good wine.
These days, focusing is something I find increasingly hard to do in an office of mostly younger people. I have a very hard time not getting distracted by everything everyone around me is doing. All the fun being had at work. The noises of the community. Young people can engage in all that and still get their work done. For me, I found that as you get older—as with injuries—the recovery time for that lost focus is much longer.
Which is why I am infinitely grateful for our work-from-home flexibility. I like to think it allows me to focus like a young person, with the work experience of an “older” one. To be like cheese–better with age!

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